CHATHAM – The meeting room at the Tri-Village Firehouse was standing room only on Thursday, August 2 for a public hearing on the Town of Chatham proposed zoning law.
More than 20 people made comments about the updated law, which the board still has to finalize before members can vote on whether to adopt it as law.
Town Planner Nan Stolzenburg started the meeting with an overview of the process of updating the zoning law, a process that has been going on for about a decade. The new proposal was updated to reflect the town’s comprehensive plan approved by the Town Board in 2009.
Two different town committees–the Zoning Implementation Committee (ZIC) and the Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee or group (CPIG)–reviewed the zoning law and made the proposed changes and updates. Ms. Stolzenburg said that besides trying to get the zoning to reflect the comprehensive plan, the committee looked at “hot button” issues like short term rentals that were not considered when the comprehensive plan was written.
The section in the proposed law about short-term rentals, like the ones offered on the Airbnb website, were a major topic of discussion at the meeting. Several residents of Thomas Road told the board that they were concerned about short-term rentals allowed in the proposed zoning law.
Karen Murphy, who was on the CPIG committee, said that introducing commercial short-term rentals into areas zoned as residential was a problem. Others said that having short-term rentals on the road meant not knowing their neighbors.
Heather Uhler, a Thomas Road resident, said small buses full of people were coming up the road late at night. She took issue with whole-house rentals rather than renting one room in a house for a few days. “I think there needs to be some kind of restriction on this activity,” she told the board.
But at least two residents talked about using Airbnb to rent out their houses and parts of their houses and how positive it is.
Elizabeth Marks, who rents out a guesthouse on her property online using Airbnb, opposed the short-rental restrictions in the proposal, saying, “I think they are restricting business in the town.”
On a different topic, resident Donal Collins said that anything not listed in the new law would be prohibited, which he thought was a mistake, since new types of businesses are being created every day.
Wendy Carroll had a several issues with the proposed changes, but focused her comments on those affecting roads, calling them “over restrictive regulations.”
Local resident and attorney Mitchell Khosrova, who was on the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals until two years ago, was one a few people who talked about not being able to review the law before the public hearing, since the board did not post the newest changes until mid-July. He pointed out that the changes in this proposed law as compared to the current law were not highlighted. He also stressed that from what he’d read of the law there were inconsistencies. “I think that more work is needed,” he said.
“If this is passed as is, the town will lose law suits,” Mr. Khosrova added.
Other people talked in support of the changes. Van Calhoun, who was on the CPIG committee, said that after so many years of the review the law needed to be codified.
Rick Werweis of North Chatham pointed out that the town has not changed the zoning law since the early 1970s. “What we are looking at is probably going to be the zoning for decades,” he said.
The Town Board made no comments about the statements of residents. All the board members were at the meeting, with Ms. Stolzenburg and John Lyons, the Town Board lawyer for land use issues.
Supervisor Maria Lull thanked everyone at the meeting for their comments and thoughts, and she said comments on the proposed law could still be made to the board.
The next regular board meeting will be Thursday, August 16 at 6 p.m.
To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email